2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo S First Drive Review: Taking Down Tesla?

The world needs Teslas, but it wants the Taycan.

A few weeks ago, the band Tool released its first album in 13 years, entitled Fear Inoculum. Not long after, sales of that album bumped pop queen Taylor Swift's Lover off the top of the charts. Instagram drama ensued, and may, in fact, still be ensuing. What does any of this have to do with cars? Meet the Porsche Taycan Turbo S, the car doing its best to be the Fear Inoculum to the Tesla Model S's Lover.

Among enthusiasts the Taycan has been both eagerly anticipated and feared as the harbinger of the end times—an electric Porsche?! What is this world coming to? (Permanent climate change, of course, is the answer, but that's beside the point for right now). So has the wait for the first entirely electron-driven Stuttgart sled been worth it? In a word, yes. In several more words, absolutely yes, but with some caveats.

The caveats don't involve the brilliant power delivery, the precise chassis, or the world-class interior. No, the caveats involve how we all think about EVs and whether we can shake some of those preconceptions. But first things first. What, exactly, is this thing?

The Taycan Turbo S, while looking a bit like the sexiest possible version of the Panamera, is actually a much smaller car, even while offering four doors and a curb weight of 5,121 pounds (5,131 for the Taycan Turbo). The Taycan Turbo S's dual electric motors offer fully variable all-wheel drive and deliver 616 horsepower in standard mode, or up to 750 horsepower with launch control. Maximum torque is an always-on-tap 774 lb-ft. The non-S Taycan Turbo—the car that set the Nürburgring Nordschleife four-door EV lap record, which Tesla may have unofficially trounced—packs an identical 616 horsepower (albeit a lower 670 max with launch control) and 626 lb-ft.

In Turbo S form, the Taycan runs from zero to 60 mph in just 2.6 seconds, while the Turbo does the deed in 3.0. Top speed for both versions is a brisk 161 mph—a higher top speed than most EVs manage thanks to a two-speed transmission that makes the most out of the launch, shifting into a higher gear for the majority of driving duties above city speeds. The quarter-mile? Takes just 10.8 seconds in the Turbo S, or 11.1 seconds in the Turbo.

Both versions of the Taycan use a lithium-ion pouch-cell battery pack yielding 93 kWh of energy storage and weighing 1,389 pounds, but more important, it does so at 722.7 volts, enabling some brutally quick charging. On our drive from Oslo, Norway, to Gothenburg, Sweden, we stopped around the 100-mile mark (with about 20 percent charge remaining due to some rather aggressive driving), and were back at 80 percent full in about 20 minutes, thanks to an 800-volt quick charger. And therein lies our first caveat.

No, the Taycan doesn't have the range of the Model S. While the EPA figures for the Taycan twins haven't yet been released, we saw real-world range figures reported on the in-car displays, based on our rather hard use, that indicated total battery range would likely be in the 180- to 200-mile zone—not far off the (very loosely related) Audi e-tron's EPA-rated 204-mile range. We expect the Taycan's EPA rating to come in somewhere near that mark, too. That's quite a bit short of the 370 miles you could likely drive on a charge in the longest-range Tesla Model S. But there's a caveat to this caveat: repeatability and real-world use.

The Taycan, unlike any Tesla, is built to deliver its maximum performance and acceleration endlessly until its battery is discharged. You can hammer on the car with launch after launch, curvy section after curvy section, and you'll never see performance fall off—and you'll be enjoying yourself thoroughly. Teslas, on the other hand, are notorious for draining significant amounts of charge when the highest-performance features are used, and some of those features are only available above a given state of charge. But then, Teslas aren't sold as performance vehicles, despite offering extremely high capabilities.

Porsches, on the other hand, decidedly are performance vehicles, and the Taycan is no exception. The Taycan's taut, balanced chassis makes it a contender for the best sport sedan on the market, regardless of powertrain. It even steers very well, even as it lacks the detailed feedback of smaller, lighter Porsches. And, to that point, it has the range of the smaller gasoline-powered Porsches, too.

Wait, what? What does the range of a gasoline-powered car have to do with EVs like the Taycan? Real-world use, that's what. Run a current 911 hard over the course of its 17 gallons and you may well find yourself seeking out a pump in just under 200 miles. Fortunately, all it takes is a handful of minutes to refill the 911's tank with refined dinosaur squeezings. The same theory lies behind the Taycan's range—and its quick recharge function. That's how the Taycan team racked up more than 2,000 miles in a single day at Nardó.

Sure, you won't be going nearly 400 miles in a single stint, but then, who really does that anyway? Bathroom breaks, leg stretching, lunch—the humans inside the cars need things even if the batteries in those cars don't. Instead, you'll be stopping to fill up just about like you would in a traditional combustion engine car, and charging nearly as quickly as you'd fill up a tank. Having lived the Taycan Turbo S life for a day, aside from pulling up to a charger instead of a pump (ours was still at a gas station), the experience is completely familiar.

That easy, familiar experience may mean the Taycan can help ease the transition of combustion-engine holdouts to the electric future, but it hinges on the expansion of the 800-volt/270-kW charging network—something Porsche says it is already doing, and will keep doing, to the tune of installing 600 of the fast-chargers across the United States by the end of 2020. What that figure translates to in terms of coverage remains to be seen, although Porsche will have some catching up to do to haul in Tesla's massive Supercharger network, which offers thousands of chargers at hundreds of stations in the U.S.

As with any car, a day's evaluation isn't enough to get the whole picture, so we look forward to spending more time with the Taycan once its hits U.S. streets toward the end of the year to see how its range and charging infrastructure translates to daily life in a city like Los Angeles, and how that compares to the rest of the electric-vehicle landscape. The Taycan Turbo will start from $153,510 at launch (with MSRP later falling to $150,900), while the Turbo S will launch with a price of $187,610, later dropping to its MSRP of $185,000. More affordable, non-Turbo-badged Taycans are also planned.

Then it'll be up to you, the car-buying public, to decide if the Porsche Taycan can pull a Fear Inoculum and turn a late arrival into a chart-topping success.

2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo S Specifications
ON SALE Late 2019
PRICE $187,610 at launch, $185,000 later
POWERTRAIN Dual permanent magnet synchronous motor, 616 hp (750 hp boost), 774 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION 2-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 4-passenger, dual-motor, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE TBD
L x W x H 195.4 x 77.4 x 54.3 in
WHEELBASE 114.2 in
WEIGHT 5,121 lb
0-60 MPH 2.6 sec
TOP SPEED 161 mph
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